132. Frank Black

Tapehead no 132

After Millennium, the quaint idea of TV thrillers and “murder-mysteries” will never be the same again. 

Never again will the murder scene fail to be covered in semen or poems written in human blood. And never again will the investigating detective just be some sort of ordinary Joe. He will have to be at least as fucked up as his suspects – if not more so. The writers of Miss Marple have a lot of work to do.

Millennium has totally moved the goalposts of how horrible you can make things, in much the same way that Seven has done with movies – mainly be copying it. Most impressive of all is the total absence of the token “dark” humour that programmes like Cracker or Prime Suspect go for. Frank, Millennium’s semi-psychic investigator, does not crack a lot of jokes. He has seen so much scary shit that when he turns up, it’s amazing that the victim’s relatives don’t just call the cops and tell them “He’s here! We go the guy that did it !”

The last episode of the first series on Sky (shortly to be repeated on ITV) will no doubt be some sort of sick, celebratory special. A couple of weeks ago a man graphically gouged his eyes out with his thumbs and ended up toppling, naked, out of his tormentor’s fridge.

Beside nubile young women, last week’s serial killer had moved on to horses and, ultimately, a lorry full of hogs, cutting their throats and leaving Frank looking for semen (the killer’s – not the horses’). A close-up of a fly crawling around a young woman’s eyeball suggested she wasn’t doing too well.

“We’re witnessing the birth of a psycho-sexual killer,” Frank mumbled. “that’s why he wrote HELP in human blood – meaning ‘Help me’.”

To which you might say “No shit, Sherlock” (but not to his face).

By the close last week, the killer had abducted a horse-loving vet and strung her up in a slaughterhouse next to several horse corpses, and looked on in a state of sexual excitement, licking one of them. 

You wonder if ITV know what they’ve let themselves in for. 

Desperate to absolve himself from Robson and Jerome and Soldier, Soldier, Robson Green’s new thriller, Touching Evil, copies from Cracker, the way Millennium does from the Dead Zone or Jacob’s ladder.

Beside Robson’s flashbacks of his near-death experience (on Top Of The Pops), it has its own mystic in the form of a fat psychic snout called Cyril (stop sniggering), a Stan Ogden lookalike that Robson refers to as “the Nostradamus of the underworld.”

Last week’s chilling child-abduction plot was (depending on how you look at it): i) a high-quality Morse or Out Of the ‘Blue; ii) a darker, quite nasty Touch Of Frost, or 

iii) a relatively cheery Millennium.

The ultimate in outsider-detective stereotypes, Robson plays his part as the strong, silent type, emotionally cold (except when he Cares Too Much) – and sensibly so, because when he needs to do anything more than this, he can’t. (His voice rises into Paul Daniels. Squealing territory.) His character is cocky but totally charmless, and so insipid, he makes Tony Blair look like Abel Ferrara.

Just as, no matter how dark he thinks Touching Evil is, Robson Green will always be That Wanker From Robson And Jerome, we will always think of Melissa star Jennifer Ehle as Calypso from the Camomile lawn, especially if she continues to play everyone the same way – by demonstrating her fabulous talent for talking and giggling simultaneously.

Melissa is Alan Bleasdale’s version of Francis Durbridge’s Sixties tale of “mystery, crime and passion”, and a right old yawn it is too.

Calypso’s character, Melissa, is “a femme fatale”, “a glamorous publicist”, as if there was such a thing. Only someone as dull as her principal suitor, a foreign reporter played by Tim Dutton, could possibly find her “enigmatic”, so she understandably overlooks his nauseating middle-class smugness and self-indulgence (not to mention moon face).

The other characters are equally awful, caricatured, and given at best mundane performances from a troupe of well-known Bleasdale actors who seem to think that just because some of it was filmed on a cruise liner, the whole production should be done as amateur dramatics.

This underlines the impression that Melissa is about as thrilling as something that actually was made in the sixties, despite Bleasdale’s embarrassing efforts to show us he’s heard of Quentin Tarantino. The music is awful, the satire of publicists and PR pitifully thin and cliched. Even the opening credits are rubbish. 

All in all about as gripping as Alan Shearer’s handshake.

(Tapehead didn’t like it much.)


Millennium: Sun,10pm, Sky 1

Melissa: Mon, Tue, Weds, 9pm, C4

Touching Evil: Tues, 9pm, ITV